Praise Pettus | UWF Alumna ‘17
Born to be a nurse.
By Mark Gause
Facing a pandemic
Infectious disease experts, virologists and others outside the medical field have been warning of a global pandemic for the past decade. In 2017, Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance cautioned, “At some point a highly fatal, highly contagious virus will emerge—like the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic, which infected one-third of the world’s population and killed between 50 and 100 million people.”
Predictions of this nature weren’t intended to create public fear and panic; instead, the goal was to prompt government officials around the world to be prepared. A global pandemic wasn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.”
Despite Konyndyk and other’s foreshadowing of events, no one could have predicted the incredible impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) would have on our society, economy and everyday life. In 2020, our country shut down and masked up to slow the spread and flatten the curve. There was a fear that the outbreak would overwhelm our healthcare system. Makeshift hospital facilities were erected and hospital protocols were initiated that quarantined COVID-19 positive patients, tested medical professionals for exposure, postponed elective medical procedures, and eliminated hospital visitations from families and friends.
Like during WWII – when corporations like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler retooled their plants to help produce airplanes, trucks, tanks, marine diesels, guns and shells – companies and organizations, of all sizes, were mobilized to help to plug shortages for medical equipment and supplies – ventilators, facemasks, plastic shields and hand sanitizer.
Our very own UWF Argonauts responded to the challenge by deploying rapid prototyping technologies. The University led an effort to manufacture and distribute 3D-printed full face shield supplies at its Sea3D Additive Manufacturing Laboratory. These face shields were donated to local nonprofit healthcare providers serving at-risk populations such as the elderly, low income and the homeless.
The highly infectious respiratory disease caused by COVID-19 put our country and the entire world in uncharted territory. It became the same moment in our history when American’s first learned about personal protection equipment or PPEs – N95 respirators, eye protection, disposable medical gloves, and disposable gowns/one-piece coveralls.
The very PPEs our healthcare professionals relied on to protect their lives in order to help save other lives. Our nation was witness to the resolve of nurse Praise Pettus and all the frontline heroes whose courage was tested day and night, shift after shift. For Praise, it was what she was prepared to do and what she was called to do.
Being able to serve humanity by helping people and looking for ways to be a blessing is what motivates Praise. Yet, COVID-19 presented a new challenge. Since families and friends weren’t allowed in hospitals to visit, or accompany loved ones, nurses like Praise administered medical treatments to her patients in the form of hope to combat the heightened sense of anxiety, despair and depression – a gloved hand to hold, a comforting voice to pray with, and a person to talk to and spend time with.
These small gestures of compassion meant the world to her cancer patients and put our humanity on full display for future generations to read about. Equally, Praise was moved by her patients and how the threat of COVID-19 affected them as they battled their cancer. She witnessed the strength and fortitude of these patients. It was a life-changing experience that motivated her to be a stronger person.
Being on the frontline
A deeply spiritual and positive person, as her name embodies, Praise was raised in a military family. In no measure, it helped prepare her for these uncertain and unprecedented times.
Balance and perseverance were mantras for “Praisey” – what her dad playfully and proudly calls her – as she navigated through all the trepidation, isolation and social distancing created by the pandemic. She learned what was important – health and family. She cherished all the time that she spent with her patients and parents.
When not at the hospital, Praise and her parents found ways to avoid becoming socially distant. Whether going on walks with Nema and Forté, Praise’s two canine companions, or hanging out around home with her three feline friends – Domino, Tigger and Lucy.
Obviously, Praise didn’t need to be reminded of the health benefits of pet ownership to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and even improve cardiovascular health. Devotions and Crossfit were also part of her regiment to help decompress from long shifts at the hospital.
All the community support was inspiring as well. She said, “With us essential workers being on the frontline, I’m so thankful for all of the thoughts, prayers and kind actions this community has shown during this time. It keeps me motivated and makes my heart smile.”
Praise felt much more prepared and more comfortable in her role as a registered nurse, even in a pandemic, because of the hands-on training she received at UWF.
The path to serve others
During the summertime, decades before anyone was talking about a global pandemic, Praise would tag along to the nursing home in Fort Walton Beach where her mom worked. Praise discovered, first-hand through her mom, the importance of being a caregiver and the impact nursing had on others. She loved the people there and wanted to help them, just like her mom. The seed was planted. And what blossomed in those moments of service was a calling to care for others.
Praise enrolled in the nursing program at UWF because she knew the instructors hold the students to a high standard of nursing care and excellence. The education she received made her feel much more prepared and more comfortable going into the profession because she knew what was expected of her.
But Praise wasn’t always that sure of herself. She was shy and introverted when she first walked on the UWF campus. It wasn’t easy and she struggled a little at UWF. Ms. Toenes was the professor who mentored her, tutored her, reviewed tests with her, prayed for her and encouraged her.
Praise grew as a person. She did things at UWF that took her out of her comfort zone. She joined a sorority, competed and was crowned Miss UWF 2016, and journeyed on a 10-day mission trip to Guatemala. All these experiences at UWF helped Praise put her life into perspective.
She learned to be prepared for the unknown, hold tight to her values, and seek ways to be a blessing to others – whether it’s in the hospital, in the community, or in the world.